Championship Standard: Trojans answer Sumrall’s challenge  

Published 11:21 am Saturday, April 1, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

After a lackluster Thursday practice, Troy coach Jon Sumrall challenged his team to come out for Friday’s scrimmage and  live up to the team’s “championship standard.” His players answered that challenge. 

Sumrall made no doubts about how he felt about the way the team practiced on Thursday. 

“That was the worst practice of the spring, guys were not mentally prepared,” Sumrall said after Thursday’s practice. “I’m extremely disappointed with our performance and preparation. There were some flashes of some guys doing some good things but if we think a championship standard is what we did today then we’re full of ourselves.
“It was very lackluster, I thought our attention to detail was poor, the energy was below average and it’s on us as coaches to get it fixed. That was not our standard and it will not be acceptable.” 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Troy’s players came out fired up for Saturday’s scrimmage and both sides of the ball showed off the type of execution Sumrall was looking for. The offense broke off a number of long touchdown runs and the defense even forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Quarterback Goose Crowder threw a laser of a touchdown pass to Landon Parker during the red-zone period, as well. 

“(The message) was well received,” Sumrall said of the way his players responded. “The energy was a lot better, the attention to detail was a lot better.
“I think back-to-back days sometimes in spring ball can cause you to maybe hold back something for the scrimmage day but that’s not acceptable. They followed up today and responded the right way, though.” 

Gunnar Watson (18) throws a touchdown pass during the March 31 scrimmage.

Sumrall was most impressed with the way both sides of the ball was able to make plays. 

“It’s been the best give and take we’ve had,” said Sumrall. “Last spring we would have days where the offense couldn’t move the ball to get a first down. The defense is doing some good things and we’re holding some guys (from scrimmaging) and protecting some guys that have played a lot of good football on that side.

“Javon (Solomon) has been held a little bit but defensively those guys will be fine. Offensively, it’s really fun to see our growth. It’s fun to see the success they’re having. There are guys stepping up and making plays that has been fun to watch.” 

The depth at running back is hard to miss as it seems like every practice or scrimmage one or more of the backs are breaking off long runs but Sumrall says the improvement across the offense stands out. 

“Depth at running is real and at receiver we aren’t afraid to go up and make a contested catch and make a big play,” he continued. “The offensive line play is solid and I think the quarterbacks have done some really good things. I’m excited about the direction the offense is heading. I think it will be fun to watch their growth and development.”

DeWhitt Betterson Jr. (26) breaks a long touchdown run during the scrimmage.

Returning receiver Jabre Barber pointed to the offseason work that has led to the offense’s success. 

“I feel like everyone is getting on the same page and executing,” he said. “Even before spring started we were always out here, even the new guys, catching passes with the quarterbacks and getting on the same page. I think that helped out a lot. I feel like it’s just about getting one percent better every day and getting out and growing every day.” 

Another aspect that is attention grabbing is the energy the offense has brought to practices during the spring, even those that are on the sideline cheering on their teammates on the field. 

“I think the style of play right now offensively is exciting for them. We knew we needed to ground and pound a little bit (last year) and we still want to do that but there are some things we’re doing to open the offense up a touch more to be more versatile,” Sumrall continued. “I think that’s fun and it’s a system players want to play in. I think those guys understand, they saw the defense last year and the energy they brought and it fed their success sometimes. It’s sort of like when you start a fire and then pour gasoline on it.

“I think having really good energy and doing things with great enthusiasm is a big part of it. I think what’s also fun is guys that are out right now, like Deyunkrea Lewis and Clayton Ollendieck, that are bringing as much energy on the sideline as those on the field. I’m very pleased with the current direction of the offense right now. I think we have a chance to be much improved on that side of the ball and we need to be much improved there.” 

There will be a lot of new faces on defense this season and there’s no more glaring spot than inside linebacker where longtime starters Carlton Martial and KJ Robertson have vacated their roles due to graduation. Jordan Stringer, Terry Thomas and Jayden McDonald are the players with experience there – especially McDonald – but two of the three are limited during spring practices due to injury. 

“You know who Jayden McDonald is and who Jordan Stringer is. We also feel pretty good about Terry Thomas but he’s the only one of those three scrimmaging right now,” Sumrall said. “Those three guys we sort of know who they are but Steven Cattledge has flashed, as well. He’s long, he’s athletic, intelligent and he’s physical.
“I think he has a really bright future and Luke Hodge made a nice play today. He’s had a really strong spring. He’s in the right spots, he makes good, quality physical football plays.” 

Longtime defensive tackle Will Choloh is also gone and returning All-Sun Belt defensive end TJ Jackson will be seeing his role increase even further as the elder statesman on the line. Jackson said he’s focused on his technique as he will likely be playing inside more than he did last season. 

“Choloh really groomed me since day one when I got here and he always told me to be ready when he leaves to take that spot (as leader on the line),” Jackson said. “I feel like he groomed me pretty well to do that. Right now I need to learn to take more of a reduction step (on the line) since Choloh is gone and I’m going to be in his spot playing inside more. Getting that reduction step down and not playing in an ‘Okie’ (front) all the time, getting may hands right and all.” 

The Trojans will return to the practice field on Tuesday morning as T-Day draws closer.